What's the origin of the phrase "It is what it is"?

I’ve heard this all my life and didn’t know until recently it was associated with football and other sports. I assumed it’s origins were ancient, but does anyone know what they are? (There may have already been a thread, but obviously you can’t search for two letter words).

I’d wondered if it was related to God’s self identification in Exodus of (many translations occur, but the most frequent is) I AM THAT I AM, or perhaps Shakespeare’s “That that is is” (delivered by a clown in *Twelfth Night, IV ii).

Anyone know?

I didn’t know that either. It is used any differently in sport lingo than in casual speech?

While I’ve certainly heard the phrase, why do you assume it’s related to sports?

Using Google Book Search, you can find it from 1919.

And now, 1873.

  1. John Locke.

Those are all instances of that string of words, but what’s relevant is surely employments of the phrase in the particular meaning associated with a resigned acceptance of the state of the world, or something like that?

*Note, bolding mine–samclem

How do we know that this meaning is what the OP intended?

I didn’t associate the phrase with sports either. However, some people obviously do.

Chris Ballard has a humor column in the May 19 issue of Sports Illustrated whose theme are things that he wished people would say candidly to him, including:

And Sam, c’mon, the odds are much higher than 100% that this is the usage the OP wanted to know about, not some philosophical musing from Locke.

Additional cite (and bonus rant) on this very phrase and its origins.

From that URL, there’s an 18th c theologian named Joseph Butler who said “Everything is what it is, and not another thing.” Apparently the Fifteen Sermons, in which the quote appears, were done in 1726.

I can’t say I’ve ever really noticed the phrase - could someone provide a hypothetical example commentary/conversation of the type where it would appear? (I don’t have anything to contribute to this thread except my curiosity)

The common phrase I remember is the following.

It is what it is, and there ain’t no more.

IMO the phrase is too common to say it came from anywhere. My interpretation of the saying would be along the lines of calling a spade a spade, being unwilling to debate further or compromise. The phrase is most effective when people are in denial, e.g. “They can’t fire me!” when you’re in the parking lot with your effects boxed up. You can say that but here we stand.

From the Deer Hunter, where Michael gets pissed that Stanley always forgets to bring boots or other gear: The Deer Hunter (1978) - Quotes - IMDb

Michael: Stanley, see this? This is this. This ain’t something else. This is this. From now on, you’re on your own.

It is what it is, and there ain’t no more.

The above phrase shows up in a few songs approaching a hundred years ago. Songs were one good way back then to have a phrase become a common saying, if it wasn’t already. It’s better to ask when a phrase became popular than to think nobody ever used it before a certain person used it.

Song 1. Sheet music 1925 - Harry Woods - That’s All There Is There Ain’t No More
(The title may have been this instead “That’s All There Is”.)
This man wrote music for others and his songs were popular.
There were other songs, but this is the one I think would have made the phrase popular.

Song 2. Folk music - “Ain’t Gonna Grieve My Lord No More”

Song 3. You can Google for other’s, because it’s not worth putting them here.

For whatever reason, it’s rapidly become a stock evasive answer in sports interviews (all sports). Recently, a local sports commentator lamented that even Russian and Czech players on NHL teams were using it to avoid answering questions, even though they’d only been in North America a couple of years and still had limited English.

“What do you think about being dropped to the third line?”

“Well, I don’t know, you know, it’s not my choice, you know, but it is what it is. I don’t know, you know, it’s not up to me.”

I’d like to suggest that it could be as old as language itself.

Zog say, is what is. Me not make up. Just is.

I don’t understand what you mean by this. If you’ve been hearing it all your life, isn’t that evidence that it isn’t specifically associated with football?

Certainly, the phrase has proliferated as an all-purpose BS answer in sports interviews over the last ten years, but I hear it at work as well. It’s one of those catch-phrases like “at the end of the day” that becomes popular for no apparent reason.

So it’s a bit like: that’s the way the cookie crumbles or que sera sera?

My take is that it is slightly different, but I’m having a hard time putting it into words.

Here’s a personal example. Several years ago I was working on a big trial with several other lawyers. This was a high stakes, high stress situation. Everybody was putting in incredibly long hours. And, as always, certain things were going our way (e.g. rulings from the judge, witnesses giving good testimony) and certain things weren’t (e.g. same). Also, despite our best efforts, we would do make mistakes (see an episode of the west wing for examples: everybody is smart, but that doesn’t mean that they never make mistakes). And, human nature being what it is, everyone was tempted to focus on, well, if only the judge hadn’t made that *&$% ruling, or if only I had tried to talk with that witness a month ago, we would be in a much better position than we are now.

And someone would say, look, it is what it is, we didn’t get the ruling that we deserved but oh well, we’ve got a lot to do right now, so let’s keep focused on THAT rather than on a bunch of stuff that already happened and we can’t control.

Maybe that’s the same as que sera sera, but I see that phrase more like “look, don’t worry about it, it will be cool,” and I view the phrase “it is what it is”–at least in the context where we were using it, more like “keep your head in game. We can’t do anything about that right now, but there are a bunch of things we can do something about so lets focus on those”

Bull Durham:
Crash Davis: It’s time to work on your interviews.
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: My interviews? What do I gotta do?
Crash Davis: You’re gonna have to learn your clichés. You’re gonna have to study them, you’re gonna have to know them. They’re your friends. Write this down: “We gotta play it one day at a time.”
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: Got to play… it’s pretty boring.
Crash Davis: 'Course it’s boring, that’s the point. Write it down. *

Not sure how old you think I am, but I’m actually considerably younger than football. :wink:

I didn’t mean to imply that “It’s ONLY associated with football”, but when I looked up the eytmology almost everything referred to it as “popularized by football player X” or “hockey player Y”. I’m really sure it does predate them, with the Shakespeare quote (which is kind of a throwaway line- a fool [in the professional sense] referring to a story) coming closest to the current meaning (pragmatic acknowledgement and acceptance, basically).

When the remains of Ira Einhorn’s fiancee were found in his apartment several years after her disappearance, by some accounts he responded to the police official’s demand for a statement with “It is what it is” ; others quoted him as “you found what you found”. Either way, same basic sentiment (with, in Einhorn’s case, no remorse/denial/confession whatever). That would have been in 1980 (or 1981, not sure which).